Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Only an English teacher would read this

Last night I wrote about missing my students' stories now that I'm not teaching any more. There's a flip side though: the things I don't miss. And what I don't miss most is grading. I don't miss reading stacks of papers written by students who don't listen in class, don't read my handouts, don't take the time required to write and then revise .... and who pulled the same shit the past 12 years of school so they can't write one sentence that makes sense.

Think I'm kidding? I'm not.*

Somebody shared this website on Facebook a few months ago when I was in the middle of a typical quarter: Shit My Students Write. I read through seven pages of it before I realized I already had the same kind of writing to read, and it was sitting in stacks on my dining room table. I didn't need to read the funny typos and misunderstandings other teachers get in their students' papers, because I got paid practically nothing for reading and grading my own students' papers. I could put up my own damn website.

Don't believe me? Think the teachers on that website are exaggerating? I don't blame you if you do, which is why I feel the need to validate what you read there.

Here, posted entirely without permission, are a few first sentences from a stack of ad analysis papers I received from one class during one quarter. And let me preface this list by saying that these are not first drafts, and I gave strict orders to the entire class to read the first sentence of their papers aloud before they turned them in to me and make sure it was perfect.
  • An engineer who had no previous experience created Skky Vodka in 1992.
  • The capo and the tuner, two devices both known to the average guitar player as essential item need to play.
  • While looking through the Women Health Magazine I seen that bathing suits were on sale for ten dollars per piece.
  • Celebrities have a great affect when it comes to selling product weather there are there owns are someone else.
  • In our society today women are so disturbed by the way there menstrual cycle makes them feel. I am a woman and I can tell you from personal experience that they are some of the most grueling pains you could ever imagine.
  • Every women know what is is like to get their period. 
This list is representative of about 75% of the papers I read. And these are just the first sentences. There were more sentences in each paper. Many more. 

I once asked an entire class -- around 25 students -- if they had read the papers they just turned into me. Almost all of them said no. They wrote the papers and then didn't even read them once to see if they needed to make any corrections. They came into class thinking I would mark every error on their papers, and then they'd just change the things I marked and they'd get an A. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Writing is hard work. It really is, and I'm the first to whine about it. My students were not stupid. Somebody failed them. And I failed a significant number of them myself, but not in the same way. I hated that because I wanted them to succeed -- but often more than they wanted to themselves.

Nope, I do not miss grading papers. Yes, it was a big part of my job. It's too damn bad somebody didn't start doing it sooner.

Don't even get me started on No Child Left Behind. Could George Bush pass my class? I doubt it. I really fucking doubt it. 

* This is not about the students who do work hard and who do love to learn. Those students were often frustrated too.

I leave you with this spoken word poem by Taylor Mali titled "What Teachers Make." I promise I'll write about vaginas soon.



  1. Something failed, that's for sure. I virtually never saw writing that poor, during the '80's, from any of my students--unless they were on academic scholarships. ;-)

    1. I taught at an open admissions college. Like I told my classes, the door to this university is wide, but the door out with a diploma is narrow. You'll have to work hard to get through it, and the first thing you have to do is pass this class with at least a C. (True of all state universities.)

      What discouraged me so much about these is that I told them to read just the first sentence aloud.

      There's definitely a change in attitude about writing. I never thought writing was irrelevant. The majority of my students did. They were there to get the degree, not the education. That's not an idea they made up themselves.